Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman
At the Goodman’s Owen Theatre
Slow paced, gloomy work on alcoholism too depressing
Playwright Brett C. Leonard’s world premiere tragedy, The Long Red Road, is a most melancholy work about the destructive effects of alcoholism on both a person andhis family. Director Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drama utilizes Eugene Lee’s sprawling thrust set that deletes many sets and completely removes the second balcony. I guess Hoffman’s cinematic approach tried to picture the dual stories of the two families. This staging made for many bad sight lines. A curious choice.
We meet Sam (Tom Hardy), a nasty drunk whose life is lived through the bottle and occasional sex with his live-in girl friend, Annie (Greta Honold). Sam is drinking himself to death as we painstakingly learn, after a long and snail-paced first act, walked away from his injured wife and dead daughter nine years earlier. Sam is presented as a coward who loathes himself. He will not seek help and he is enabled by Annie and Clifton (Marcos Akiaten), the Indian chief /bartender.
Parallel to Sam’s wretched existence is Bob (Chris McGarry), Sam’s brother who now lives and takes care of Sandra (Katy Sullivan), Sam’s wife and Tasha (Fiona Robert), Sam’s surviving daughter. This dysfunctional family is loveless with Sandra denying Bob despite sleeping with him and Tasha, a 13 year old acting out against Bob.
When Annie calls Bob to telling him that Sam is quickly deteriorating from effects of drinking, Bob and Tasha travel from Kansas to South Dakota to rescue Sam. Why now after nine years? And why is Tasha so eager to meet her father, the cause of the tragic accident?
The act two scenes involving Sam, Bob and Tasha were underwritten and came off as contrived and unbelievable. Can so many bad memories be squelched so easily and, if it only takes a visit to motivate Sam to clean up and slow down his drinking, why didn’t Annie call Bob sooner?
The Long Red Road’s slow pace and darkly real presentation of self destruction was vividly and honestly presented. But Sam is such a loser that we hope the Indians at the bar would kick his ass again. I couldn’t care less what happened to Sam and I hoped that Tasha wouldn’t end up living with him. Bob, we learn, is not the heroic enabler but a sexual predator. With so many plays written about dysfunctional rural Midwest families, I’m glad I’m from Chicago.
The Long Red Road is a maudlin work that creeps along until its unrealistic conclusion. It is powerful albeit a one-note dramatization of alcoholism. Tom Hardy aptly depicts a self destructive coward. A quicker pace and a more compact staging would serve this piece well.
At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-433-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org, tickets $10 – $45, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 7:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through March 21, 2010